Southwestern Michigan’s Dick and Betsy DeVos are recognized as the proven “get it done” couple. That reputation is also incorporated in the family name, ever since Dick’s father Rich DeVos co-founded Amway (now Alticor) in Ada, Michigan, a small town outside of Grand Rapids.
Dick and his wife, Betsy, the current U.S. Secretary of Education, have extended the family reputation for philanthropy and civil leadership. The couple have, both individually and through their family foundation, contributed at least $140 million to organizations involved regionally in the arts and culture, healthcare, education and other charitable and civic initiatives.
One early indication of Dick’s commitment came in 1991, with talk of a plan for constructing a new sports facility and convention center in Grand Rapids. It was to be built not in the city center, but in a huge complex north of the city.
Dick had seen what can happen when cities get sidestepped in this manner. After all, Detroit, across the state, had been virtually gutted after such developments as the Palace of Auburn Hills and the Pontiac Silvderdome had been built far enough away to carry the Detroit name but contribute nothing to city life.
Dick put his many connections in the local business community to good use. He helped found Grand Action, a working group of civic leaders, and the group rallied to reel in the project and bring it downtown.
Their grand action didn’t stop there. Van Andel Arena, the DeVos Place Convention Center, the medical school of Michigan State University, Grand Rapids City Market and other developments soon glittered the Grand Rapids skyline and brought people back downtown.
It’s not just vocal leadership. The DeVoses also contribute with much-needed financial resources to nudge change. In 2010, for instance, their financial support led to the innovative West Michigan Aviation Academy. This top-ranked Grand Rapids academy provides a tuition-free, quality education to high school students.
Betsy and Dick DeVos also started the Education Freedom Fund, its mission to provide private-school tuition to thousands of local students in need.
Betsy’s reputation as an education reformist was so universal that it resulted in her appointment as the current U.S. Secretary of Education.
In addition to the West Michigan Aviation Academy, Dick’s love for flying is reflected in his leadership in getting Air Tran Airways, now a part of Southwest Airlines, to add air routes from Grand Rapids’ Gerald R. Ford International Airport, along with $45 million in airport upgrades.
His passion for aeronautics also led to his appointment to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Management Advisory Council. This influential civilian group is tasked with helping the federal agency establish priorities and direction.
Dick and Betsy DeVos demonstrate in numerous ways, both public and below-the-radar, their commitment to positive change. Their leadership and philanthropy have helped changed lives for the better in Southwest Michigan and far beyond.
To learn more, visit http://www.dbdvfoundation.org/.